Okay, maybe I should say eating in Barcelona but by our last night it felt as if we had eaten the city!
We arrived Wednesday on a flight from Porto mid afternoon and our host, Kiko, Catalán to his roots but facile in English having spent a few years working in Miami and of course also fluent in Spanish, had postponed his lunch waiting for us. We headed right out to his regular corner restaurant (where we sat outside for about an hour and a half), selected from the set menu of two courses with drink, and received most happily his introduction to El Reval and Barcelona in general. Not the sights…but the residents (Reval is a hodgepodge of cultures and to our delight a bit gritty), way of life, and even a detour into Catalán and US politics. He also told us he was leaving for a few days to look for mushrooms in the mountains and would return late Friday night. He showed us how to use the keys, wished us a good time, and off he went.
We had planned to use our first night in Spain to go to a pintxos bar that Mark and Hannah urged on us. We had no idea where it was, but up popped the walking route on Google maps and it was almost a straight line, perhaps a 20 minute walk. Off we went…and it was a perfect plan.
The route crossed the famous La Rambla, and then suddenly we were in a large square dominated by the Catedral de Barcelona, with a sort of market of stalls with a mix of antiques and old stuff, coins and postcards, knickknacks and such. The sun dropped away, the light became rosy, and we continued on the route not totally sure what we’d find. Wow, there it was. Though Hannah had explained “Do not throw away the toothpicks” that was all I could recall in our hungry and somewhat disoriented state. “Como funciona?” You find a spot to sit at the narrow counter around the back of the room, a woman brings you plates and takes your drink order, and you go to the double decker counter of plates each with mysterious, complicated but yummy-looking little open faced sandwiches and other canapé style things. Not only yummy-looking–it was fun choosing, eating, returning to the counter and choosing again. An excellent introduction and easy, early dinner.
Tapas, Wine, and History
Our second night was a treat–we had booked a history and tapas tour with Devour Tours. This was a brilliant plan. Ten people, various ages and all Americans, and all of whom, we gradually uncovered through a night of drinking and eating, anti Trump Democrats. Phew. Two couples from Kentucky, one from Wisconsin, and a young couple who live right outside DC (the guy is a consultant to the Justice Department).
Our guide told us we would visit three places, and after a strong dose of history as we made our way through the Gothic Quarter we landed at La Pineda. I had gazed into their window longingly the event before so I was immediately excited. In this tiny place a table for 11 was waiting and as soon as we settled in Paulina told us about the history of this family owned operation in business since the 1940’s. Three kinds of cheese, four different cured meats including jamon Iberico that was revelatory, empanadas (not the Argentine fried things) and tortilla, the Spanish potato and egg thing, sort of a frittata. And to drink, vermut de la casa with an orange slice and a salty green olive on a toothpick. Nothing like a glass of fortified wine (this is not the vermouth we put in a martini!) to get the party going.
Next stop, again after a good dose of city history, was La Plata. Similarly this is a family operated business from the 40’s. The place is so small Paulina told us often her groups eat outside, but that night we had a table that almost fit us. La Plata serves like 4 or 5 things plus their own house wine drawn from barrels sitting on the bar.
We ate several plates of fried anchovies, the entire fish and soooo good, plates of quartered tomatoes that tasted like it was July, slices of the sweetest possible white onion, drizzles with olive oil and topped with tiny green olives, pan con tomate that defined the dish, and thick slices of baguette-sized bread topped with chunks of fat sausage. We cheered the food, drank the wine, staggered out as I wondered how we would ever survive a third stop.
Survive we (almost) did, on to Bodega La Palma. People were leaving as we approached, every one of whom said “oh, this place is amazing”. We squeezed through to the back, climbed impossibly narrow, steep stairs to a tiny mezzanine which could maybe hold 15 slim people.
We crammed around the table and food started coming. The best patatas bravas possible, then jamon croquettes, then pea and mint croquettes, finally pork cheeks in a rich stew, and as I realized I felt as if not one more bite would go down the postre came, looking like creme brûlée with the carmelized, crunchy sugar top but much lighter, less eggy, and with hints of lemon and cinnamon. Oh, and several bottles of Montsant red wine, delicious. One of our fellow diners admitted she was converted from white to red with that bottle.
Fortunately as we dispersed Paulina told us she was headed our way to a metro stop, so we had a guide through the streets, parting at La Rambla from where we knew our way. The tour started at 6:30 sharp. We left Paulina at 10. Groan!
Le Reval Discovery
By lunch Thursday we needed a break from Spanish food and since I had heard there was a variety of middle eastern food, and the ubiquitous kebab shops didn’t beckon, I went on Yelp. I found or thought I had found a Turkish place close by, and we proceeded to not find the street nor, of course, the place.
Turning around David said “let’s go there” pointing to Elias & Zacaria and in we went. Busy and busier, fantastic looking prepared dishes in the case, a guy making what looked to be terrific sandwiches on baguettes, we opened the menu and found Moroccan tajines on the home-cooking page. I had kofta and rice, David chicken with potatoes, and an appetizer of eggplant and peppers that a serious-looking woman in a hijab carried out, still warm and fragrant. A plate of two kinds of olives and basket of bread appeared as the waiter ran by and we dug in.
Suffice to say as soon as we got back to the apartment I put a five star rating and review on Yelp. Best post-meal moment was when the serious, almost grim faced woman came out from the back kitchen as we left and I had a chance to say thank you, “muy rica!” and got a big smile.
For dinner we returned to tapas at Mino, where I over ordered, we ate everything, and while it was good we had been spoiled by our tapas adventure the night before. We did have our first morilla (blood sausage), so good, and found that jamon is not jamon–there’s the great, and the simply good.
Saturday morning we walked down La Rambla to the Christopher Columbus monument, with a quick detour through the lovely, large, but a bit touristy Boqueria. Oh, the food looked so good…but when we returned from the monument it was getting very crowded so we decided to go back and see if Kiko had indeed returned. He was home, no luck with mushrooms, but we decided we wanted a tour of the newly reopened market a block or so away, Mercado Sant Antoni.
As we wandered the market we came upon a produce stand which had an abundance of the mushrooms Kiko had been looking for…and they had some for sale, cooked with garlic and olive oil, on little sticks. So we had to try them…oh, so good. Instead of a full lunch we asked to stop at a jamon counter where they also had a few stools and a simple menu of various types of jamon, chorizo, pan con tomate and of course copas de vino. This was a return to the meltingly delicious jamon iberico at La Pineda. We got two plates of jamon, two of pan con tomate, vino tinto, and nibbled our way to satisfaction.
For dinner, needing salad and a break we went to the very highly recommended Marmalade, two blocks from our apartment, for an enormous Caesar salad and extremely good burgers. On to Sevilla.